November 12, 2018

Flexible spaces for individualized classrooms

A place for everyone.

I taught a multi-level French Second Language course a number of years ago. The students were following a mix of Pre-secondary through Secondary five programs – and I had one student studying math. The students were part of a special program offered through Tewatohnhi’saktha and Nova Career Centre and they had one morning of French class  a week. The work was immense. And there was one French class a week. 

When I think about multiplying the work 3, 4, or 5 times a week, I start to shake. Yet this is what many teachers in Adult Education in Quebec do on a regular basis. The longer I work in Adult Ed, I am seeing that individualized classrooms are more the norm than the exception. I am humbled by teachers like Janie Lamoureux and Karine Jacques (and so many more!) who strive to make their classrooms work for all of their students, regardless of level, background, or course they are taking.

…& they do this through flexible learning environments.

But of course, flexible learning is SO much more than just a pretty space! And this is what Janie & Karine spoke about at the first après-cours for individualized teachers of the year, November 6, 2018.

An après-cours for individualized teachers.

Avi Spector, Véronique Bernard, and I decided to create an online community for Individualized teachers so they could have a place to meet with others and talk about the unique challenges and opportunities that come with an individualized classroom. 

The theme for the first meeting was changing things up in the classroom and I think the best thing we did was to hand the content over to two master teachers – Karine Jacques & Janie Lamoureux. They spoke about how their flexible classroom environments help their students as well as their teaching. The meeting was completely bilingual and it was great to see the chat box blow up in both English and en français!

Their presentation/conversation was nothing short of inspiring. Below is a video of the meeting and some links to other resources from the après-cours. Enjoy – and I hope to see you at our next meeting! We will announce the date soon.

Resources

A huge thank you to Janie and Karine!


October 4, 2018

How do our environments affect competency development?

I just got back from a rapid-fire three days at the annual #recitqc gathering. It is called the Formation conjointe et collaborative, which roughly translates to joint, collaborative training. Each year, it is three days where about 150 consultants in the recit network come from across Quebec to learn together. We organize workshops for and with each other and I love the conversations I get to have with my colleagues from all across the province about how we support teachers in their work.

I also love the flexibility of the event. There are tons of workshops and social events scheduled, yet when I need a mental break, there are also many quiet spots scattered around the event venue where I can go to take a break or work quietly alone or with some colleagues.

It’s within this flexible structure that I can really feed and develop my own competencies as a consultant.

This year I had the opportunity to experience the FCC with a new colleague. We worked together with two others to create a flexible workshop that invited participants to think and talk beyond the new equipment that is coming into our centres under the rubric of the Digital Action Plan for Education in Quebec. It is easy to get caught up in the new, shiny tools so we invited participants to ask each other – what else is this digital action plan allowing us to do? How is teaching changing? How is learning changing?

Of special interest to me is how our teaching and learning environments – our classrooms – are set up to support competency development in our students (and ourselves!). We decided to include a standing table in our session and it helped to provide a welcome break from sitting as well as to redistribute the noise from multiple conversations across the space.

As I wrote earlier, I was able to benefit from the flexible learning environment at the FCC. Being able to find quiet spaces to think at different times helped me from getting overwhelmed by the activity and noise of many people learning together. Having a conversation station at the standing table in our session also allowed us to have a conversation above the noise of the other conversations in the room, which made communication so much easier.

How can we create similar conditions in our classrooms? I ask that question in this video (French & English versions) (Merci, Marie-Ève, pour la super traduction!)

If you are interested in pursuing these lines of questioning, all of what we did, including these videos as well as feedback from participants, will always be available at this website.

May 1, 2018

More than just a pretty space

A recent edsurge article talks about how the race to buy fancy furniture is turning flexible classrooms into a fad.

What then happens is instead of designing classrooms that positively impact students, we are decorating classrooms, celebrating the new, and then moving on to the next shiny thing. Pinterest-pretty classrooms bring instant gratification, but little else.
from: How Furniture and Flexible Seating Is Turning Classroom Design Into a Fad by Robert Dillon, Jan 4, 2018, on EdSurge

And that is true.

As I like to say – flexible classrooms are so much more than just a pretty space.

Flexible learning is so much more than just a pretty space

If we focus on good pedagogy and design our classrooms according to that, we can stay away from jumping on a fad that will soon disappear when we ultimately discover that it isn’t a magic bullet on its own, just like any number of other education fads – remember differentiation, flipped classrooms, multiple intelligences, teaching to learning styles, technology infused learning, *insert education fad here*…

But what is good pedagogy? Even the term pedagogy is thrown around so much that its become jargon.

I think that terms like pedagogy and ideas like good teaching and learning are fluid. My belief is that good teaching and learning need to be based on theory, yet are then made very personal as they relate to each teacher’s classroom and practice.

It is no secret to those who follow my writing here or who have been to my classroom or workshops, that I define ‘good pedagogy’ as access to learning for our students. And for me, that is closely connected to how we design our learning environments.

The way I see it, it comes down to these things:

As long as we keep our goals in mind when we begin to design our learning environments we are off to a good start – and these goals need to be strongly intertwined with whatever program goals we are committed to teach

Then, if we ensure that the largest number of our students can access these goals we are off to an even better start. We can do that by providing diverse resources, diverse ways for students to see the course goals, and examples of how we can achieve these goals (processes and strategies). Actually, it is not enough to just provide them. Explicitly teaching students how to access all of this (and/or getting out of their way when they figure it out!) is an important step.

I can’t just expect success to happen. I explicitly design for it.

Build it and they will come? No. We need to change the conjunction –> Build it SO they will come.

—-

My ideas are heavily influenced by this article by CAST as well as the experiences of teachers across Quebec, some are seen here: bit.ly/qcspace and on PD Mosaic – UDL + flexible environments. A special thanks to Avi Spector, of course – we explore these ideas together a lot!

January 12, 2018

Designing your space to match your goals

My last post was called the magic of flexibility but really, the magic is a result of very careful planning.

The first sentence to go through my mind when I plan a learning session with teachers is ‘Design the space to match the goal‘ (see CAST, 5 UDL tips for learning environments). If I want participants to talk, I need to make sure that I set up a space that facilitates conversation. If I relate this to the classroom, and I want my students to talk to each other, then I have no choice but to set up my classroom space in a way that makes conversation a part of the learning.

Yesterday, Avi and I were working with about 50 teachers and administrators of the Western Quebec School Board on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and flexible learning environments. Our space was given to us – a gymnasium. So there was plenty of room for us to set up our stations and for the participants to comfortably move through them throughout the morning.

In conversation with one of the teachers at lunch, she remarked on how loud the room was and she compared it to a PD session we held at McGill University the month before called Designing Engaging Classrooms. There were over 100 people having conversations in one room at McGill and she commented on how it was far less noisy in that room than it was in the gymnasium and that it must have been engineered specifically for better acoustics (which it was). So I looked at pictures of the room to see how we could recreate this effect in our public school spaces – like gymnasiums and classrooms – when our goal is to facilitate conversation.

If you look carefully at the image, you can see that the tables in the active learning classroom at McGill are on different levels so conversations happen on different levels within the space as well.

McGill active learning classroom, redistribution of sound over levels

picture of McGill’s active learning classroom in the Education building taken by Jovette Francoeur, posted on Twitter. Click on the link to see the full tweet.

The tables in the gymnasium are all at the same level, so the sound from the conversations stays at the same level as well.

January 11, 2018 WQSB

PD hosted in the gymnasium at Hull Adult Education Centre, picture by Tracy Rosen

I remember Tom Rhymes, Director of Educational Services at LBPSB, talking about how classrooms were less noisy at Forest Hill Senior Elementary School since the teachers started to design different seating levels in the classroom – from lower milk crates, to chair level, to standing desks – and this resulted in a redistribution of the sound in the room.

forest hill class levels

classroom at Forest Hill Sr., picture taken by Avi Spector

What can this look like in Adult Education?

At the Centre le Vallon in Papineauville, Nadia Veilleux has carefully designed her classroom with different seating zones for her students. The result is an example of how we can use different levels of seating with adult learners to better manage conversation levels in a room.

Seating levels at Centre le Vallon

pictures by Nadia Veilleux, Centre le Vallon, Commission scolaire au Coeur des Vallées. Click on the link to see a video about her classroom (en français)

And finally, when we model flexibility, participants are encouraged to be flexible in their own approaches to learning as well. Take a look at how one of the groups at Western Quebec School Board dealt with the noisy gymnasium… they created their own quiet oasis in the space.

Follow #qcspace on Twitter for more on Designing Engaging Classrooms at McGill (Dec 12, 2017), Flexible Spaces and Adult Learners at WQSB (Jan 11, 2018), as well as other UDL and flexible learning environment initiatives in Quebec.

Here are some highlights from those events:
#QcSpace Dec 12, 2017
#qcspace at Western Quebec School Board, Jan 11, 2018

The #qcspace website updates as new resources are created across the province, so visit it often!

You can also visit PD Mosaic for even more Made in Quebec resources on UDL and Flexible learning environments.